Movie Review: Paterson

Recently, I saw Paterson, the new Jim Jarmusch movie. I’d like to share a few thoughts on it. SPOILER ALERT! Please don’t read further unless you’ve seen the movie already or don’t mind knowing about some aspects of the movie before you see it.

I did like the fact that the main character in the movie, a poet named Paterson, had a regular day job as a bus driver. So many great poets have had not had the luxury of supporting themselves through their writing. Although perhaps that is a luxury in itself, to be able to write without worrying how it will be received, whether or not it will be published, whether or not it will sell. Elizabeth Gilbert writes some about this freedom in her recent book on creativity, Big Magic.
There were many things I loved about this movie. I was fascinated that the renowned poet Ron Padgett had the challenging but exciting task of writing the poems that the main character wrote in this movie. They were some of the most engaging parts of the movie, when the words of a poem actually appeared across the screen. I enjoyed the quiet brilliance of some of the poetry he wrote, but I also loved the wrestling of words that Paterson had at times, in particular, a part where he writes a somewhat cliche love poem to his wife which starts with “dear pumpkin” and ends with his own judgment of his writing/emotions: “how embarrassing.” I think every poet has written his or her share of cliched love poetry!
Paterson was a quiet movie, perhaps operating at a slow pace for some, but it had a lot of small crises and also a lot of humor. I loved the part which featured the two young actors who played the star-crossed couple in Moonrise Kingdom. In Paterson they played two intellectuals having a conversation on Paterson’s bus that ends with an exchange something like: “Do you think there are any anarchists left in Paterson?” “You mean besides us? No.” “Let’s go get a coffee before class.”
The mythological recurrence of twins in the movie was a meaningful aspect which truly touched me personally. Part of the reason for this is due to personal circumstances, having lost twin sisters myself, one being stillborn and the other dying 19 years later, most likely due to congenital complications. When Paterson wrote a poem with some lines about unborn twins, tears welled up in my eyes. I was also brought to tears by the interaction Paterson had with a young girl poet who wrote a simple yet beautiful poem that contained the image of water falling like the long hair of a girl.
One thing that pissed me off about the protagonist, although perhaps we are not meant to love every aspect of Paterson, is that he kept refusing to call himself a poet. I’ve encountered writers who insist on repeating this- they say that they are not “real writers,” but I think they are only trying to make excuses to take pressure off themselves. However, some of the events at the end of the movie lead me to believe, and to hope, that the character of Paterson would have evolved, and that his story will inspire other writers to take their work and their dreams seriously and to have to courage to share them. Go see the movie!

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